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Tax cut for Wharf survives in Senate

PIERRE -- State senators struggled Wednesday whether to reduce taxes somewhat for the Wharf gold mine in the Black Hills.

The final vote was 18-16 in favor of SB 162 after Sen. Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, changed from nay to aye halfway through the roll call.

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Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, gave notice of her intent to have the vote reconsidered. That means the bill remains alive unless Peters can get the total of yes votes under 18.

The change in tax law would save approximately $300,000 for Wharf, according to estimates presented in the debate.

"The severance tax has not been changed in 20 years," said Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish. He is the bill's prime sponsor.

There are 160 jobs and many millions of dollars in local spending and taxes at stake, he said.

The price of gold has fallen far enough to make profitability marginal using the low-grade ore at the mine site.

Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, asked whether Wharf had previously needed to ask for assistance from state government or locally.

Ewing said he couldn't answer that. The ore isn't as gold-laden as it once was, he said.

Hunhoff asked if any other options were explored to offer short-term financial assistance.

Ewing said Wharf is working to reduce expenses with its contractors.